Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Happy 2nd Gotcha Birthday to Phoenix!!!

 Phoenix, on her second day with me!

I can't believe I've had her for two years already!!!

I am one of those people who believe in fate, things that happen are meant to be and that there is a reason for everything. Phoenix is one of those things.

On October 6, 2012 my friend, Jeff and I went to Pet Expo together. He brought his dog, Marley and I brought Zoe. We were there for part of the day, we got lots of samples, listened to a few talks and met Shorty Rossi from Pit Boss. Then we went and had lunch and decided to head back and go to the dog park where we met and were regulars.

Hercules from Pit Boss

When we got to the park, our friend Jamie was there with her dog Graham and she told me that there was a dog at the Oregon Humane Society that kind of looked like Zoe. We didn't always see Jamie and Graham every day or even every week and this is where I truly believe in fate. If we hadn't been at the dog park at that specific time I would not have found out about Phoenix and adopting her would of never happened. I am so grateful that Jamie told me about her and how wonderfully supportive she was, even when Phoenix was naughty with Graham! Thank you so much Jamie!! We love our girl! 

Zoe & Graham

"Best Friends"
Marley, Graham & Zoe 

I had been really wanting to add a second dog, pretty much since I got Zoe. We have always had at least two dogs and Zoe really needed her own buddy. I looked up the dog right away, there at the dog park on my smartphone (YAY for technology!!) and what I saw amazed me. The dog did look a lot like Zoe and she was also a "Second Chance" transfer from Klamath Falls, Oregon, just like Zoe. I thought that maybe they might be related! Reading the dog's profile I immediately knew that I wanted to go meet her. I also found out that she had survived a house fire and that the shelter considered her special needs. We would not find out exactly what that meant until later. 

Phoenix's OHS Photo

That night when my husband came home I showed him the picture of the dog and he was also amazed at how she sort of looked like Zoe and also came from the same town. I told him that I really wanted to go meet her and was shocked when he actually gave me the okay. My husband worked the next day but I was off and my friend Jeff offered to go with me and Zoe to the shelter. I hardly slept at all that night. She was all I could think about. The next morning (10-7-2012) I jumped out of bed, loaded Zoe up in the car, picked up Jeff at his house and we drove into Portland. 

We left Zoe in the car and I had already gotten the dog's location from their website, so I kind of knew where she was. We bypassed the other dogs and went straight to see her. What I saw pretty much broke my heart. She was sitting in the corner of her run, shivering, completely frightened and she was holding one paw up. (Dogs often hold a paw up when they are anxious). She would not come over to see us, she just sat there, wild eyed. I felt so bad for her. My mind was also racing because of the way she was acting and after learning how traumatized she really was, I was worried that her issues might be more than I could handle. 

We asked to see her in the meeting room and also if we could introduce her to Zoe after we visited her. Meeting her it went pretty much the same way. She was so scared and shutdown. She would not allow us to touch her but amazingly, she would take food from me. The fact that she would take food gave me a glimmer of hope that she would be okay. We were also given a behavioral consult and all I remember was the shelter working repeatedly saying something along the lines of "if you adopt her she can never be off leash, she will run away for sure". I also remember thinking (as the guy was talking to me), "I can't adopt this dog!! She won't even let me touch her!!" My mind was screaming at me and my heart was saying "but.... but.... she needs you!! No one else is going to want her". I believe Jeff also said something along the same lines as what my heart was saying, too but I don't remember exactly what it was. It was a very stressful day. 

I went out and brought Zoe in to meet this dog. At first I was worried that Zoe would remember the shelter and think I was taking her back. She actually did really well. She was a bit nervous but when I got her in the meeting room with the other dog, she settled right down. She even did some of her tricks for the shelter worker. We let them meet and walked them in circles so they could sniff each other. At one point the shelter worker told me I could let Zoe off the leash. I did and she did some more tricks and just hung out with us and the other dog. The two dogs did not have an instant love connection. They sniffed each other and kind of ignored each other. Which was perfectly fine. 

So after meeting her and introducing her to Zoe, I called my husband at work. I explained to him how skittish the dog was and that I thought it would be a lot of work. I told him that she wouldn't even let me touch her. I honestly thought he'd say no way and I think I was kind of hoping he would say no so I wouldn't have to make the decision. He completely shocked me with a neutral response. He told me that if I wanted to do it then go for it but it was up to me. I remember standing there, my friend holding Zoe's leash and me honestly feeling very reserved about it. I didn't want this dog! Did I? She wasn't even friendly. Head or Heart? What do I do?? Am I experienced enough to work with a dog like this? My previous dogs have been shy but never skittish like she was. 

I went with my heart. I felt so bad for her that I could not leave her at the shelter. We went through all the paperwork and one of their workers brought her out to us. The worker was against us letting the dogs ride home together in the backseat but Zoe would not stay up front with my friend. Luckily they did fine.

Zoe and Phoenix on the way home. Photo Credit: Jeff Gragg.

On the way home we made a quick stop at PetSmart so I could purchase a second crate. We left the girls in the car together by themselves. I knew they would be fine and they were. When we got home we had trouble getting Phoenix to go down the stairs. Our apartment was sort of a basement apartment. Once we got her down the stairs the next challenge was getting her into the house. I made the mistake of leaving my cats out and they are door greeters. They wanted to meet this new thing I was bringing in. Phoenix wanted nothing to do with the cats. We don't think she had ever seen one before and they frightened her so badly that she peed and hid in the corner by the door. It was really sad.

At this point in the day, I was beginning to get a migraine headache. The new dog was growling, barking and generally freaking out at my cats. I was very, very stressed out. I remember thinking, "What the hell did I just do? This dog is a freaking spaz!" I was concerned that she was going to eat my cats and I felt bad for them. This is where I tell you what a good friend Jeff is. If it wasn't for him I probably would of seriously considered taking her back. He was able to calm me down and encouraged me to give her a chance to calm down, too and like he said, "What's the worst that can happen? You might have to return her?" I am so thankful that I have such supportive and helpful friends in my life. Thanks again, "Uncle" Jeff!! :D

I put her crate together, stuck it in our spare room and stuffed her inside it. Then I covered it and shut the door to that bedroom. Making sure the cats could not bother her and that she was able to calm down. I drove Jeff home and then went home and tried to relax for a little bit. We were off to a very rocky start!

My husband came home a few hours later and I ended up putting our cats in the master bedroom so that the new dog could meet him without any extra stress. She was very skittish and would not go up to him but she would let me guide her around with the leash. We went for our first walks and she did okay. Once she was more calm and used to our routine things went a little better. Each day her relationship with me and Zoe improved.

Phoenix on her first day and first walk at our apartment. 

A couple of weeks after the adoption, I got my first kiss from her!! I was so happy and excited. It was like that kiss was the final icebreaker. She became very attached to me and followed me around everywhere. It took her 6 months to start trusting my husband, though and around a year for her to allow him to handle her. She didn't mind if he fed her treats but it took a long time for her to let him pet her.

Phoenix helping me work on the computer. She's always pressed against me!

Phoenix loves to steal and sleep with toys!!

Zoe & Phoenix cuddle together with the dog toys.

We found out pretty much immediately that Phoenix loves toys and is very playful. Once she was  more comfortable at our place, she started stealing toys out of the basket and sleeping with them in the dog bed. She could easily entertain herself forever with the dog toys we had. The way she acted, it was like a kid at Disney Land! We would always find her with at least one toy, if not a dozen.

"Excuse me! I'm hungry!!"

We also figured out that she was food obsessed and had to borrow a baby gate to keep her out of the kitchen! We put her on a harness with a long line attached so that we wouldn't have to get into her space (to avoid frightening or startling her) if we needed to catch her. She had major problems with anyone reaching towards her. She wore the long line for a few months while I worked on gaining her trust, training her and counter conditioning her to being handled.

 Phoenix taking a nap at one of her tie down stations.

We set up some tie downs around our house so that we could safely have her tethered while we introduced her to the cats. I had to take this measure because after she got over being afraid of them she thought it would be a good idea to chase them. It was very important to me that my cats have a normal life. I was not about to shut them in a room every day because of my new spazzy rescue dog. I didn't want to keep her crated all the time, either. I also didn't realize that her wanting to chase cats was a reactivity thing, until much later. I just thought it was an untrained dog, thing.

"I found the kitty!!!!"

Later on I realized that she is sensitive and reactive to animals in motion. She would pace endlessly, looking for cats, absolutely obsessed with hunting them. She could not settle down at all. Even after several (3+) hours of exercise and training. We ended up having to put her on an RX Anxiety Medication (Paxil) for the first year. The anxiety medication was a blessing (paired with desensitization and counter conditioning). We were able to teach her to relax and it also helped with some of her reactivity issues. She was no longer in a constant state of anxiety and she stopped pacing and her obsession with the cats subsided. Although, occasionally to this day if they are running around like crazy, she will attempt to chase, but it's more playful now than anything else.

Phoenix learned that our cats are family members not prey!

Pandora, Hurley & Phoenix

Phoenix makes her debut on YouTube! February 23, 2013

 I forgot to include some of her tricks in the previous video, so I made another one.
February 24, 2013

Phoenix taught me everything about "Force Free" dog training. I was already really into Positive Reinforcement and training tricks by the time we adopted her but I was used to doing a lot of luring. I used shaping for playing games, like 101 things to do with a box, but we never really spent a lot of time using it for anything else. I also never bothered with capturing anything. 

So how do you train a dog that can't be touched and was terrified of hands coming towards her? I shaped and captured everything until she was comfortable and used to me. I did a modified version of Kathy Sdao's SMART x 50 (more like 550) and we kept kibble in little containers all throughout the house. Every time one of us "caught" Phoenix doing a behavior we liked we'd toss her some food. Every single time she made the right choice she got food thrown at her. We jack potted her and had a treat party any time she chose to settle on her bed without us having to use a tie down. Once we got some solid behaviors I started clicker training her and teaching her tricks and she started learning cues, recall and position changes.

Phoenix meets Marley for the first time. 

Shortly after getting Phoenix, we made our first trip to the dog park. She met Jeff's dog, Marley and promptly bit him on the nose, in a very snarky fashion. Which was when I learned she had issues with other dogs. Marley is a very mellow dog, though and after a few times of being around him she learned that he is an okay dude.
 "I guess this guy is alright!"

Unfortunately, her issues did not end there. I realized she was reactive to large dogs. Mostly black dogs, labs and golden retrievers, or any big dog that was rude and got in her face and also that she was a fence fighter. She is severely barrier frustrated when it comes to fences and she doesn't like having any animal on the other side of the fence from her, especially not barking dogs. Barking dogs really set her off.

LLW Training and playing LAT with some barking neighbor dogs.

I began working with her on her issues and she actually made a huge improvement (with the help of the anxiety medication) in a very short time frame. She started to get along with my other friend's dogs. She even made some of her own friends, although she was still a wild child and liked to play rough.
Phoenix playing appropriately with another dog!

Phoenix makes a friend her own size!

"Lets play!!" Marley & Phoenix

Oh and that dog that they told me would never be able to go off leash?? I don't know where she went!?! Oh there she is! Phoenix has the most amazing recall of any dog I've ever had. She is absolutely trust worthy off leash, even more-so than Zoe!

Phoenix can fly! Rocket Recalls!!

Coming back!

Phoenix bonding with my husband, playing with her flirt pole!

Phoenix loves to go hiking!

We ended up having to move from Oregon to rural California to help out family and unfortunately I haven't been able to keep up her reactivity training as much as I would like. There are not many friendly dogs here and we haven't made many friends. Some of her reactive behavior has regressed. I am hoping that I can fix this soon. We want to eventually move back to Oregon.

In the last year I've been working a lot on impulse control, Premacking both dogs on prey animals, recalls and doing trick training. We also recently took a couple of Fenzi Dog Academy classes. Phoenix is learning some fancy heelwork! It is definitely harder to train here, I don't really have my own space. Hopefully this will change soon.

Phoenix learning heelwork from our Fenzi Class. 

Phoenix gets to play in the snow for the first time!

Zoe & Phoenix settling on a mat at an outdoor cafe.

Phoenix finally trusts me enough to jump into my arms! 
This trick took around a year and a half for her to learn!

Phoenix and Me.

Phoenix has been my constant companion, pretty much from the first month I got her. She has transformed into a dog that no one could touch to my favorite snuggle buddy. Since moving to California, I have struggled with some depression issues and Phoenix has been by my side the whole time. She's my favorite reason for getting out of bed in the morning. She is absolutely the best friend a girl could ask for! I can't believe how far she's come since those first rocky days! It's hard for me to remember that I didn't want this dog. She is amazing! She absolutely loves to play, she loves learning new tricks and working with me. She went from a very impulsive dog that couldn't control herself to a dog who thinks before she does something. She has learned how to relax and she has an off switch. One of the funniest things about her is that she loves to watch movies and her favorite TV show is "Alaska: The Last Frontier". She will actually watch the entire show! She is so cute and sweet. She is everything to me. I love her dearly.

Even though we still have some work to do, every day is an adventure with Phoenix! <3

"I'm ready to go play on the beach, mom!"

Today I'm joining up with the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop and The Adventure Dog Blog hop!


  1. Happy Gotcha Day! Isn't it amazing how the time flies?!

  2. What an amazing gotcha story!!! First off I adore the photo of the three best firneds together - how adorable. But my fave has to be the photo of dog-intensity-at-the-cat-tree to best buds sleeping together (with a cat-pillow no less!!) My two sound somewhat similar - outdoor cats are a reason to turn into embarrassing hooligans who need to be reminded 10/10 times not to be jerks (heh), but the indoor cat is a different beast. Now I'm not even sure they associate the two as the same animal :) But your photo order is quite stunning, to see that change over time!

    Great post! I think it's lovely to document memories like these, one of the best uses of a blog.

  3. I love everything about this. Your girls are amazing and you have done so much with them already in a short time!

  4. This is an amazing post-you and Phoenix have come so far in such a short time! She looks so happy and relaxed in her photos now compared to the first few days out of the shelter. Happy Gotcha Day to Phoenix!

  5. Wow! What wonderful progress you guys made! Happy Gotcha Day to all of you! I know you consider yourself lucky to have her, but I feel pretty sure you saved her life. So glad you went with your heart!

  6. What a wonderful post and story! Phoenix is a very lucky girl you adopted her. I hate to think what her life would have been like if someone with less skills, love and patience had fallen for her! Great videos :)

    1. Thank you! Me too!! It also amazes me that her people didn't keep her. I know I didn't mention that too much in my post but her house burned down and her people never came for her. Her and another dog were rescued out of the house and taken to the local humane society. It just amazes me that they didn't want her. She's an awesome little dog.

  7. Happy Happy Gotcha Day Phoenix! I think everyone is lucky! xoxo

  8. Love the idea of Gotcha day when birthdays are unknown. And love all the photos and positive training. Phoenix and you are very lucky to have each other.

  9. Aw wow! This was such a beautiful great post!!!! Happy Gotcha day!!!!!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  10. Happy Gotcha Day, Phoenix!!! I loved the video. :D

  11. Happy Gotcha Day, sweet Phoenix. I think that the shelter worker had absolutely no idea what an amazing human you are. You've transformed Phoenix through smart training, dedication, and love. I smiled all the way through this story (except for the depression part but I'm glad that Phoenix helps).

    1. Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked our story. :D

  12. I almost couldn't find where to comment on your blog. I hope this is the right place for the right post (Re: the one about fate and pets).

    I truly believe in fate when it comes to pets too. When I was a kid we had a lot of pets but it was the cat we found tortured in our ditch and rehabilitated, and the rare-breed stray cat with one eye that we took in, that felt the most special to me. It was life circumstances for me and my roommate that brought Chester and I together. I wasn't truly looking for a dog but fell on love with Gretel's face on Petfinder. The rescue made special accommodations to make sure she came to me and I beat out about 100 other applicants. In all of those cases, it was just "meant to be".

    1. Oh, I'm sorry you had such a hard time figuring out where to comment! Yes, this is the right place. :) Yep, I believe in "meant to be", too!

  13. Happy belated gotcha day! And move back to Oregon! Mr. N needs more hiking buddies. We're going to the Pet Expo this weekend but the boyfriend will kill me if I bring home any more dogs.

    1. Thank you!! We definitely want to move back! My husband applied for a job in Gresham.

  14. Crikey ...... that is one of the best gotcha stories I have ever read and I've read heaps. AND what a happy ending!! You are amazing Lauren and your two beautiful dogs are the luckiest dogs on the planet. I thought my Charlie was but you run rings around me for what you have done for those dogs. Well done!! They are beautiful and so are you!!


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